10 Tips for Copywriters in Training

Copywriters Write

A few days ago, I received an email from one of my newsletter subscribers. We’ll call him Paul. He’s taking a copywriting course and wondering how long he should wait to start seeking clients.

Here’s my slightly modified response to him. I think it’ll be helpful for any copywriter near the beginning of his career.

—–

Good morning, Paul. Thank you for reaching out.

Let me ask you a question: when you look at a website, email, even a TV commercial do you know — almost instinctively — what the advertiser was trying to do, where he went wrong and how you could make it stronger?

Now, I don’t know you, but I’d be willing to bet that the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

With your studies of Hopkins, Kennedy, etc., you’re probably already good enough to be very helpful to 75% of the business owners in America.

So my answer to your question is, YES, you should begin looking for work now.

Let me share a few thoughts:

1) Copywriting, like any other discipline, requires continual study and learning. You’ll never know it all. So there’s no need to wait until you’re done “studying” to launch out into the deep. Or at least stick your toes in the water.

2) Freelancing can be tough. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not bringing in Bob Bly-level fees in the first year. Realize in advance, strengthen your resolve and go for it.

I spent my first 2 years or so as a moonlight copywriter. I worked as many as 80 hours a week in management at Kmart, then came home to prospect and work on projects. I tell that story in some depth in an interview I did with Michael Zipursky in 2012 –> http://www.consulting-business.com/direct-response-copywriter-and-consultant-interview-with-donnie-bryant.html. If I recall, it’s about 30 minutes long. If you have the time, it might be an encouragement for you. I get lots of good feedback.

3) You’ve probably heard it a hundred times, but you should spend a good chunk of your time promoting your services. 50% promoting, 50% doing client work and improving your craft, or something like that.

4) Most copywriters start out as generalists, but the sooner you find a niche (and maybe you already have experience or deep knowledge of some particular industry) the better. Position yourself as an expert in that niche and focus your efforts there.

5) Get some copywriter friends. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have the camaraderie. You’ll come to cherish those relationships.

6) It’s also helpful to build relationships with people in other industries. Especially people with bigger audiences and established authority. These are people who can interview you and put you on their websites or in their newsletters, recommend your services to their people, do joint ventures, make valuable introductions, give opportunities for guest blogging, etc. Proactively seek out and nurture those kinds of relationships. If you’re looking to provide mutual benefit (and not just be a self-seeking mooch), you’d be surprised who will be open to connecting with you.

7) Be generous, but do your best not to undervalue yourself or your work.

8) Try to get paid upfront, even if it’s just a deposit. Save yourself from getting burned. And watch out for bad barter deals. Sometimes they’re worth it, but a lot of times you end up frustrated with what you get out of the deal.

9) Start building your email list ASAP. Even if you don’t know how you’ll keep in touch with them. Someday, maybe sooner than later, you’ll be glad you did.

10) Read a lot, but don’t let reading stop you from writing. I suggest reading non-marketing stuff and stuff outside of your area of expertise to continue giving your brain more raw material to build creative ideas with.

Curiosity is one of the characteristics of most, if not all, great copywriters have common.

People are often amazed by the stuff I know. From pop culture to ancient history and from biology to philosophy, I know a lot of random stuff. I have a “swipe file” (if I can call it that) of quotes I like about anything, everything. Never know when a powerful idea will spring forth from one. They make good writing prompts, too.

While you’re reading, please add the Bencivenga Bullets to your list: http://www.marketingbullets.com/archive.htm. Now that I think about it, I’m going to work my way through them again…

Here’s the big one:

10) Almost no one wants a copywriter. Almost no one even knows what copywriting is, as you’ve probably noticed.

That means 2 things: A) look for clients who know what copywriting is and how much it’s worth, and B) don’t position yourself as a copywriter, per se, for people who aren’t familiar with it. Focus on your own benefits versus the “feature” of being a copywriter.

I think that’s about enough to start out.

Thanks again for reaching out. I pray you have more success than you dream of.

—–

What’s your best advice for a starting a successful copywriting career?

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The Low Cost Leader’s Precarious Position

Competing on price is almost always a dumb idea. In every case I can think of, it makes more sense to differentiate in ways other than being the cheapest place in town.

I was given the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on the futility and danger of price competition (and the fear that causes business owners to adopt that kind of pricing strategy) over at the One Hour Startup blog. There are 3 articles; I hope you check them out. The feedback has been excellent.

[[ Update: The One Hour Startup blog is being merged with NinjaHobo. These articles are no longer hosted there. ]]

3 Alternatives to Competing on Price – What Dominoes Pizza, Babiators and iPhone lovers can teach us about staying out of the Bermuda Triangle of commoditization, where the only way to win is to be slash prices.

The Wife-Approved Pricing Strategy – If price is the main way to convince a would-be customer to buy, why do people regularly pay premium prices for some products? Here’s an example from my own wife. Oh, and Aston Martin.

Pick Your Battles Strategically, or All’s Fair When Avoiding Price Wars“…what main characteristic did David possess that allowed him to defeat Goliath, who was bigger, stronger and more heavily armed? Most people will say that it was his agility or speed…More important than these things, though, was his willingness and ability to choose the terms of the fight…When your small businesses square off against entrenched competitors… ones that are bigger, stronger, better-known and better-equipped than you… you can learn a few things from the young warrior David.”

While we’re on the subject, observe Chuck McKay as he destroys the low-cost leader’s argument in 33 seconds:

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Marketing Lessons from a Snowstorm

We had our first real snowstorm in the Chicagoland area yesterday.

While I was outside removing snow from the sidewalk and driveway this morning, I felt a little pride. Shoveling is not my favorite activity, but I think I did a pretty good job. I took care of it early so that the kids waiting on school buses wouldn’t have snow invading their shoes, making their Monday morning socks cold and wet. (Mondays are tough enough on school kids anyway, right?) The walkways are well-cleaned and salted to prevent slippery ice patches.

Yeah, I did a pretty good job. I don’t like to brag, but I might even be the best on the block.

Despite the high quality of my work historically, no one’s walked up to me and offered to pay me to shovel the sidewalk in front of his house. I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen, either.

The same is true for your business. No matter how great what you offer is, having a customer randomly approach you with cash in hand is not very likely. Your product or service may even be the “best on the block.

This is why marketing is so important. You have to tell people who you are, what you do and how choosing you will improve their lives. They need to know why they should do business with you.

A few other thoughts popped into my freezing cranium while I was taking care of my winter duties this morning:

  1. There’s never a shortage of people willing to pay to avoid pain. I can’t think of any surer way to position yourself to win in the marketing game. I mean, who likes to have people ringing their door bells early in the morning? But when he’s offering to relieve you of the necessity to face frostbitten toes, he’s a pretty welcome sight. Think of ways to solve problems or erase pain for your prospects, and you’re well on your way to success.
  2. You don’t have to be the best. You don’t have to be the only person who does what you do, either. How many industrious individuals are out there making money cleaning up snow for other people? Quite a few. There’s plenty of action to go around. Don’t let the fact that you’re not one of the “big dogs” stop you. Davids beat Goliaths every day. Even if they don’t wipe them out completely, lots of them get big enough pieces of the pie to make it worth their while. Never let competition scare you off from chasing your aspirations. Find a chink in their armor, and go for it.
  3. Finding a “hot” market is the best way to go. A snowstorm like this one produces all the ingredients of a hot market. There’s a large group of people facing an ugly problem. Almost no one wants to deal with this problem (who doesn’t hate shoveling snow or scraping ice?), but it has to be resolved. The few people willing and equipped to take on the task have an immense potential to profit. Do you provide an solution to a pain, problem or fear that your core audience feels acutely? Are there enough people in that group for you to generate the kind of revenue you are looking to earn? If so, you have a very solid foundation.

December is a funny time of year. Depending on your seasonality, this could be the busiest time of year or your slowest. But no matter what, targeted marketing gives you opportunities to gain ground as a business, even if it’s just planting seeds that will begin sprouting a few months down the line. Keep at it.

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A Practical Follow-Up on the Universal Appeal of Shortcuts

Yesterday’s article prompted response from one of my readers. We’ll call him John. He asked how he can apply the shortcut principle to his reflexology practice, which offers long-term solutions to clients. What follows is my response, almost verbatim.

—–

A few things come to mind with regard to the shortcut angle. First, let me say that I think your website copy is pretty strong. Addressing the issue up front is almost always a good idea, and I think in your case, it’s absolutely essential.

Now…

There are plenty of products and services that don’t start working right away, right? Even things like medication don’t solve root problems instantly. It’s all about setting expectations. Which is what you’ve started doing on your website. It would probably be helpful to position your services as longer-term processes, just like any other health-related issue. No one gets 6-pack abs in one workout session, right?

One idea that would be particularly effective, I think, would be to give the client something on your first visit that would have an immediate impact. Let me throw a few things out there; your brain can fine-tune and make applications that will work best for you:

  • Your pre-service consultation is a brilliant idea. Even if it wasn’t necessary, it would be a great idea. If you don’t already do this, you can use that time to come up with a quick (use a template) action plan that shows them the many things that are negatively impacting their health and causing pain/discomfort, things they may not even realize are causing problems. Tell them something shocking or interesting they didn’t know about themselves, their lifestyle or routines.
    • Of course, in that action plan, you recommend 6 weeks of treatment. Maybe you even use a coupon of some sort to get them to take you up on the 2nd session.
  • You could create a comprehensive report or booklet that contains highly-useful insights that show the clients the benefits, create realistic expectations in their minds that decrease the likelihood that they’ll give up after the first visit. Education-based selling, per Chet Holmes’ model.
  • Have you seen those pamphlets doctors give to expecting mothers showing them what’s going on with their bodies and babies over the course of their pregnancy? Can you show/tell clients what begins happening with their bodies during the first session, then what continues happening as they move forward with future treatments? Even if they can’t sense the improvement, if you show them what’s going on and what benefits are beginning to accrue that they’ll see in week 5 and 6, I think they’d be less likely to give up so easily.
  • Is there something you can do that will make them feel good right away? You mentioned that there are pain medications that will give instant relief, even though they don’t fix anything. What if you had a 10-minute massage to get the client relaxed? People spend big money on massages just for the stress relief and relaxing effect. They often set regular appointments.
    • Maybe massage is unrealistic, but you see what I’m driving at. You could offer clients mind-blowingly delicious lemonade while they wait, and if it’s good enough, that might be what gets them to say “Hey, I’ll come back next week.
  • You may recall the study Cialdini referred to in Influence where gas stations gave a punch card to their customers. One gave a card offering every 8th car wash free, or something. The other offered every 10th one free, but they punched the first 2 spots when they gave the card to the customer. That jump-start toward a goal caused a greater degree of commitment and desire in the customers at the second gas station. The increase in response was remarkable. I don’t remember the details very well, but you see the point. What can you do to get clients to commit in their minds to investing in their own health and well-being by coming back to see you enough times to get the full benefit?
  • You have testimonials. Can you get video testimonials? Or at least pictures to go with the written ones? Either one of those upgrades will add more credibility and impact to your website.
  • Do you have any long-term clients? Can you start offering them incentives to spread the word? If they personally recommend your services to people who like them, some of that “liking” will rub off on you. They can also explain that the full effect takes some time to come about, reaffirming the expectations we want to set.
    • You could try having those long-term clients can refer people by saying something like this. “I’m taking care of the persistent back pain I used to have by visiting (business name). If you need some relief, I think I can get you an appointment, but I’ll only give you his number if you’re prepared to take the process seriously. This isn’t a one-and-done process. John can’t afford to spend his valuable time on building foundations for people who never finish the construction” That’s a bit of an aggressive approach, but it’s effective.

Your services may not be a shortcut in terms of time, but they require less risk than surgery, less side effects than medications and less pain than ignoring the symptoms. When you think of it that way, you’re offering a shortcut through some very undesirable stuff to a better life in less than an hour a session. Sounds good to me!

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Unexpected Insights for the Christian Entrepreneur Pt. 2

Read Part 1 of Unexpected Insight for the Christian Entrepreneur.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?

“From this time many… turned back and no longer followed him.” – John 6:60-61,67 (NIV)

Although Jesus’ spoke His words to everyone, they weren’t accepted by everyone. In fact, scripture says that many people deserted Him because of His teaching.

Was this a surprise? Of course not. Verse 64 indicates that Jesus knew some would stumble. So why did He say what He did, knowing that He would alienate a significant portion of His audience?

Because the truth is the truth, no matter who rejects it. The truth will appeal to some and offend others. But the essential message itself must never be changed or watered down to make it more palatable to a wider “market.”

What in the world does this have to do with your business? More than you may think. Take a look at this Charles Atlas advertisements from the 1930s:

COMICAD_charles_atlas_3

Can you think of anyone who might find this (or the many other similar ads he ran) offensive? Did the potential backlash stop him from running them (and making a huge impact on the culture of the day)? Clearly not.

Atlas wasn’t worried about the people who might not like what he had to say. He wasn’t trying to convince them of anything. But the men who could relate to these messages were more than happy to send him money.

This is what Charles Atlas stood for, and he became an icon taking that stand in his unique, in-your-face manner.

So, what’s at the heart of your business, product or service? What do you stand for? Boldly take your stand right there, even though some people won’t like it.

(Example: In the copywriting arena, there’s always the long copy vs. short copy debate, or direct marketing vs. Madison Avenue-style general advertising. It’s simple enough to pick a side, and when you do, you instantly inherit opposition.)

There are 3 kinds of people you’ll encounter: 1) people who want what you offer, and with whom you can have a mutually profitable relationship, 2) those who never intend to buy from you and 3) people who don’t know you. If you want your business to become everything it’s capable of becoming, you need to tell your story, stand up for your position and be yourself. You and your message will resonate strongly with the people in group #1.

Who cares about group #2? Does it matter if they hate your ads or are offended by your stance on issues?

Individuals in the 3rd group will self-select their way into one of the first 2 groups as they get to know you.

Here’s the thing: if you dilute your message to appeal to everyone, it’s more difficult to tell the difference between people who are really with you and the ones that are “tire kickers.”

“Hard sayings” have a way of pre-qualifying your crowd.

In His 3 year earthly ministry, Jesus never backed away from the speaking the truth, even when it was harsh. As a result, He made more enemies than true followers. But in the subsequent months and years, those faithful few turned the world upside down for Him.

So here’s the point (which I’ve probably taken too long to get to): you can water down your message or choose not to take a bold stance on issues that are important to you and you’ll have access to a bigger crowd. But that crowd will be full of lukewarm listeners.

On the other hand, you can tell your story full-strength and create fired-up disciples and evangelists along with some folks who really dislike you and your cause. But there will be no lukewarmness.

Which way will you choose?

Tags: “christian entrepreneur”  business  marketing  advertising  messaging  bible

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Juxta-Positioning

Positioning is establishing your identity in the mind of your audience. Your positioning can be bad or good, strong or weak.

The best kind of positioning is when you can “own” a word or concept. Google IS online search. Kleenex equals facial tissue. Volvo is synonymous with automotive safety.

Sometimes, it can be appropriate to position your company, product or service relative to an established brand. Juxtapositioning, as it were.

There are countless ways to juxtapose your business, product or service with competitors. Here are 5 of the most common:

  1. Us vs. Them – offering uniqueness of a company or product over against a competitor
  2. Before & After – demonstrating a unique end result
  3. True or False – exposing the uniqueness of reality over common perception
  4. Exotic vs. Commonplace – uniqueness of origin, philosophy or perspective
  5. Ancient vs. Modern – discovering the uniqueness of ideas from a forgotten era

When your unique value proposition (UVP) is strong, but demonstrably different than the leaders in your field, Us vs. Them juxtapositioning is appropriate.

Slow Lube Lansing Positioning

As an example, take this photo from an auto shop in Lansing, IL (one of Chicago’s south suburbs). While Jiffy Lube and others offer 10 minute oil changes, emphasizing speed, this shop takes the opposite approach — a “slow lube.” It makes you wonder: what are the other guys really doing to you car? What are they missing or messing up? The contrast is stark.

Why try to compete with the other shops on speed? Quality and “proper service” aren’t even on their radar.

Before and After is simple, right? Think exercise machines and acne medication. Demonstrate how the future can be better and brighter with your product or service.

Where misconceptions are hurting people in the market, or just keeping them from buying from you, become a mythbuster. Remember those commercials sharing the “truth” about how corn syrup is as safe as sugar? That’s full-fledged True or False juxtapositioning at work:

Exotic vs. Commonplace can be best seen in the way we Westerners love products from the East, from green tea to yoga. The opposite is also true. People from around the world clamor to get their hands on American products and brands.

People get bored. We associate the familiar with the results and experiences we already have. To have a new experience or better results, exotic products hold special appeal.

Ancient vs. Modern plays on the notion that we’ve traded something significant from the past to make way for the electronically-enhanced artificial present. Technology, as much as we love it, seems to have trumped wisdom. Instead of reaching out to touch someone, we have touchscreen phones and tablets.

There’s a longing for “the good ol’ days.” (I reckon there has been ever since Adam and Eve.)

Titles including “The ancient art of…” or “long-lost secrets of …” have a mysterious attractive quality. They help sell millions of books, courses, classes and products every year.

The-Ancient-Art-of-Tea Positioning

How can you use these juxtapositioning techniques to strengthen your place in the market?

 

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Raise the Bar on Your Value Proposition

What is Rolex’s unique value proposition (UVP), really?

What do they do that no other watchmaker does? Do they make the world’s most accurate timepieces? The most durable? Nope. The most aesthetically pleasing? I’d give that a “no,” but I guess that one is debatable. Do they offer special features that can’t be found in other watches? Not really.

So what is it that makes Rolex so special? If we think about that for a moment, we may gain insights that will immediately impact the way we run and market our businesses.

Two Unique Conversations

apple vs. samsung marketing war

I’ve long been an advocate of finding your uniqueness. If you’ve been reading my stuff for any length of time, you’ve heard this conversation on numerous occasions. But my thinking about how uniqueness works out in the real world is evolving. Two conversations have really sparked my changing perspective.

My first inspiration came during a conversation with a brilliant marketer, my good pal Chuck McKay. He was explaining to me how there’s really no way for products to be truly unique anymore — at least not for more than a few months. Companies that create technological advancements that customers get excited enough to pay for usually see copycats coming up right behind them almost immediately.

Exhibit A: The multi-billion dollar global battle, Apple vs. Samsung.

Jack Welch said that “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” So what do you do in an environment where your advantages can be ripped off so quickly?

Well, the force that creates loyal, enthusiastic customers (ones who don’t make price the the primary factor in their buying decisions) for companies like Apple, Rolex and Harley-Davidson can work just as well for you.

Boiling It All Down

You may point to the way that strong brand positioning is propelling companies like Rolex forward, and you’d be correct. But what really lies behind this branding thing? More importantly, how can you use it to build of loyalty and top of mind awareness like a Nike.

The second conversation I mentioned earlier was more of a conversation I had in my own mind after reading an article written by Kimanzi Constable. When you boil it all down, business is about relationships and experiences. Branding is about relationships and experiences, both real and imagined.

unique relationship as value proposition

Have you ever seen images of fans at a Michael Jackson concert? People went bananas! Security personnel and paramedics were always on hand to handle people who whipped themselves into a frenzy and often passed out.

Good music was only part of the cause. You can bet these folks didn’t pass out every time a Michael Jackson song came on the radio. But at the concert, perfectly rational, even-keeled people became emotional, delirious fanatics . Their relationship with Michael may not have been personal, but it was very real.

Your favorite musicians may have a similar effect on you. Music creates powerful emotional experiences and, in a way, we have vicarious relationships with musicians (and other fans) through the art they perform.

Those experiences and relationships are where true uniqueness can be found. Even in a commodity business where unique value propositions are hard to come by, you can create unique experiences with customers. Just like famous musicians, you may never see them face to face, but the unique relationships you forge can be very real.

Years ago, I had a manager who told me that “every man should own a Rolex.” Rolex represents success, refinement and even masculinity for those who own them and those who desire them. This is the unique relationship Rolex has with its customers. The brand is capable of providing them with a highly-esteemed status symbol, one that draws both admiration and jealousy, in a way no other timepiece can quite replicate. The brand is an extension of the owner’s self-image, the self he wants to portray to others. He will gladly pay thousands of dollars to accomplish that.

Building Your Unique Value Relationship

Even if you have an established USP/UVP, you should start to think about your marketing and branding in terms of relationships instead of propositions. There are countless ways to build your unique value relationship (UVR). Since it is unique to each individual, I can’t tell you the best way for you to put everything together. But here are some principles to get you started.

1) Make and keep bold promises. Inspire, excite and challenge potential or existing customers. Most of your competitors will never do anything to shake people up and make them take special notice. They’re too busy playing it safe.

2) Provide remarkable customer service. Treat the customer like royalty (note how royalty and loyalty rhyme, at least in English). Give ridiculous guarantees and take away as much of the risk as possible from your customers. Make it easy to buy, easy to ask questions and get answers. Go further than your competitors are willing to go to take care of your customers’ needs. Live the Golden Rule. Don’t just say you care–prove it.

3) Stand for something. Or against something. Be a hero, an advocate. Champion the cause of your audience. Few things build and strengthen relationships like a shared goal or a common enemy.

4) Create an exclusive clique. Starbucks initiates customers into a whole new world of coffee enjoyment. I worked there for years, so I’ve seen the effect firsthand. These people are forever ruined to Folgers. But it’s more about being a member of an elite class of coffee connoisseurs than the quality of the drink. I had plenty of people tell me that Dunkin Donut’s brew tastes just as good.

If there’s anything in the world that’s a commodity, it’s coffee. Starbucks still found a way to become unique. It’s all in the experience.

5) Make the most of your location. Be THE neighborhood auto body shop. Or accountant. Claim your territory and dominate it. To steal a popular slogan, like a good neighbor, you should be there.

I believe the only way to free your business permanently from the commoditization rat race (a.k.a. the economy of today and tomorrow) is to develop and maintain a uniquely valuable relationship with people you can truly help. That is something no competitor can rip-off or destroy.

Go get started. Today.

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What An Alley Mechanic Taught Me About Selling ANYTHING

In the middle of last  summer, I took my Chevy Astro to Chuck, a mechanic my father-in-law recommended for some long-overdue tuning up. He had done some work for Pops in the past. He was one of those backyard mechanics who worked more for the love of cars than for the money. So he was a lot cheaper than the big name shops, but he did good work and he was fast.

I know very little about fixing cars. But Pops does. If he trusted Chuck, I wouldn’t give the recommendation a second thought.

So we took him the van. He did his thing. He was fast and friendly. When I returned to pick it up, Chuck mentioned that the car wasn’t in perfect condition, but he had gotten the “Check Engine” light to turn off. As long as that light didn’t come back on, he said, I should be in good shape.

The drive home was smooth. I felt good about myself. I saved some money and supported a small business in my community at the same time.

But the next drive was not nearly as pleasant. By the third trip, the van was acting exactly like it had before Chuck worked on it.

I was baffled. What did that mechanic do to the van? Had he really done anything? I didn’t actually see him do anything, and he seemed to be finished faster than he should have…

And what about this Check Engine light? It hadn’t turned back on.

Maybe the only work he did was to remove the fuse for that warning light!

Can You Make Up Someone Else’s Mind?

To be honest, I never confronted Chuck about the work he did. He may or may not have actually done what I paid him to do.

Although it seems as if there’s quite a bit to learn from this story, I wonder if you detected a lesson that can literally transform your ability to sell whatever it is that you have to offer.

Do you see what happened with the Check Engine light? Chuck gave me a very specific and unmistakeable indicator that he had done a good job. The Check Engine light was off, so  he must have fixed the problem I asked him to take care of.

Those of you who have been around for a couple months or longer know about my penchant for education as a selling too. When done properly, I don’t know of a more effective way to get people to take action.

Looking back on the situation, I don’t think Chuck was aware of what he was doing, but he taught me how to appreciate his work. Here’s what happened:

1) I had a problem that I needed to solve,
2) I perceived Chuck to be an expert in his field (mostly based on the recommendation of my trusted father-in-law)
3) Chuck defined the criteria on which I would judge the quality of work done for me.

When you think about it, how much do your customers know about what you do? They should understand the benefits of buying from you, but do they know how you achieve the results you deliver? Do they even want to know?

In other words, most of your prospects and customers are a lot like I am when it comes to fixing cars: I know I need help, but I don’t have a clue how mechanics do their job. I just know that when it’s done, I’m looking for the thing that was wrong to be repaired.

That means, I don’t really know the difference between a good mechanic and a great one. When I’m having car troubles, I can either rely on referrals from people I trust, or I pick whoever’s the cheapest or closest.

From the car shops’ perspective, they’re relying on factors outside of their control (random word of mouth or having the lowest prices) to determine the fate of their business. That’s not a recipe for success. It’s hoping and praying that the dice rolls your way time after time. No wonder over 90% of businesses fail in their early years!

Take Control of Your Sales Process and Marketing

One of the biggest advantages of selling though education is that as an authority figure, you can tell your prospects what they should look for when choosing a product or service.

For example, if you were a mechanic, and your website featured an article or special report about “6 Misconceptions About Car Repairs that Can Cost You Thousands of Dollars,”  how easy would it be to define the process of fixing in a way that highlights your distinctive benefits and subtly disqualifies your competitors who operate differently?

What about a dog groomer who gives presentations on how proper care extends the health and life of pets? Not only can you define the buying criteria for anyone looking for a groomer, but you also position yourself as someone dog lovers can trust to take the best care of Rover.

There is nothing manipulative about this method, as long as you’re telling the truth. So, of course, there is the danger of con men and swindlers using education to misinform people and rip them off, but you’re not that kind of person.

During a presentation I gave last month, I joked that the way you hire the best copywriter is to look for the ones whose first and last names start with “D” and “B” respectively. That’s a joke you can use, as well as an example of what not to do as you educate your market.

Leveraging the power of education is one of the most important ways businesses can maximize their growth in any economy. It takes extra effort, but if you do it correctly, I can’t think of a better way to boost the results your sales people and marketing materials are producing.

Strategies are less fun than tactics, but without a strategy, you’re just hoping and praying. Is that where you want your business to be?

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Strategic Selling for Startups

Among the most important books I can recommend to entrepreneurs, executives or anyone in a leadership role at a startup company is Chet Holmes’ best-selling book, The Ultimate Sales Machine.

If you haven’t read it yet, you’re missing out big time.

One of the biggest concepts all businesses have to get a good grasp on is strategic thinking. The problem is, most businesses, marketers and sales people are tactical thinkers; they can only see what’s right in front of them. They rarely move toward any long-term strategic goals, if they’ve even established any.

Without belaboring the point, I’m going to share a short excerpt from The UItimate Sales Machine that highlights the inability of the tactical thinker to see the “big picture.”

When your salespeople get in front of a client or customer, what would you like them to accomplish? What are your strategic objectives?

“When I ask executives that question, most of them reply tactically: “I want to make a sale.” Then I ask them to think strategically: “What else do you want to achieve?” And they say, “What else is there?” The conversation goes like this:

ME: Would you like to be respected?

THEM: Well, of course, I’d like to be respected.

ME: Would you like to be trusted?

THEM: Well, of course, I’d like to be trusted.

ME: Would you like referrals?

THEM: Well, of course, I’d like referrals.

ME: Would you like a preemptive strategy for when your competitors try to undercut your pricing?

THEM: Well, yeah, that’s a great objective.

ME: Would you like to be perceived as an expert?

THEM: That could be valuable, yes.

ME: How about influence? Would you like to have influence in that meeting?

THEM (the tacticians): What does that mean?

ME: Hang with me here a second. How about brand loyalty? Is that important?

THEM: Heck, yes.

ME: What about some urgency to buy now? Would that be a good thing?

THEM: Yes. That would be good.

If you even think about these objectives, doesn’t it automatically change how that meeting might go?”

Think about those objectives, and come up with real answers to them. Get past the short-sighted “get this sale today” mentality and think strategically.

It may take more time, more thought, and more effort, but believe me, it will pay off. And if you don’t want to trust me, check Chet’s record. The results he’s produced speak for themselves.

By the way, you can download chapter 4 of The Ulltimate Sales Machine for free at http://www.chetholmes.com/media/documents/Chapter4_MYS_NEW.pdf

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Set Your Sails

It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go.”  – Jim Rohn

The economy is front, middle and back page news these days. Debt ceilings, the declining dollar and defaults are all we keep hearing about.

And lets face it;  the economy is in shambles. Experts across the country and around the globe are saying that a crisis is unavoidable at this stage.

Now I’m no economics expert, but I’m forced to concur.

The truth is, you and I can’t do much about America’s economy as a whole. The problem is just too big.

I’m not saying that to convince you to throw up you hands and take a fatalistic mentality. Quite the contrary.  Any good coach will tell you not to get caught up in things you have no control over, but to focus on what you can control.

So here’s the question that really matters: how’s YOUR economy?

You can get bogged down about the macroeconomic situation, but you should be more worried about protecting your personal microeconomy.

2011 has been my most profitable year yet as a copywriter. While so many of my colleagues are complaining about taking a hit, having difficulty finding gigs. On the other hand, right now, I have a waiting list for clients who want to work with me.

I’m not saying that to brag, believe me. I bring it up because if I can do it, so can you.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you a few insights into why my economy is not currently reflecting what we’re seeing in the economy at large.

1.) I’m continuing to give. So many businesses are clenching their fists, holding back what they could be sharing, for fear of being ripped off. Or, instead of taking the time to nurture leads and develop relationships, they are rushing the selling process.

Give as much value as you can. Giving information (in a strategic fashion) will firmly establish you as an expert, as an individual or business that cares about it’s customers and communities.

2.) Positioning. Don’t get caught in the death spiral of commoditization. You absolutely must be unique, especially during a downturn like we’re facing now. If your competitors can honestly make the same claims that you make about your business, you can only compete with them on price. You don’t really want to do that, do you?

Find your own unique selling proposition/competitive advantage and make sure your target audience knows why you’re a smarter choice than the other guy.

3.) Don’t react in fear. Define a plan of attack and be proactive. What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to work with? What  account are you aiming for? What do you have to do to get it?

Fear is killing your competitors.

Remember: “The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react.” (George Bernard Shaw)

4.) Find out what your audience wants and help them get it.

5.) Don’t be afraid to negotiate confidently.

By all means, seek to understand the big picture. But also understand that no matter what the economy at large is like, there are always some people who are winning. Put yourself in a place to be one of the victors.

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